Pubdate: Fri, 01 Aug 2008
Source: Brattleboro Reformer (VT)
Copyright: 2008 Brattleboro Publishing Co.
Author: Nicole One
Bookmark: (Cocaine)


BRATTLEBORO -- While it is up for debate whether marijuana is a
gateway drug, Brattleboro  Police have found it to be a gateway for 

The initiative started as a way to get drug dealers out of the
Harmony Parking Lot and downtown area, most of  whom were selling
marijuana or pills.

Now, it has expanded to include cocaine and heroine sales in downtown

This expansion led to the arrest of Pedro Santiago, 36, of
Brattleboro earlier this month for possession of  cocaine. The drugs
seized had been broken down and  packaged for sale, police said.

The idea of the investigations, Detective Mark Carignan said, was to
make the Harmony Lot and downtown a fun, safe place for people to

"The whole investigation is less about addressing drug problems and
more about addressing the quality of life downtown for businesses,
residents and the people who visit," he said. "We want to make it
difficult for them  to do it downtown and that either drives them to
other  locations or indoors. This enforcement we're doing is not
going to reduce the use or distribution of drugs, but we're trying to
drive it out of the public forum."

While the sale of cocaine, and to a lesser degree heroine, does not
seem to be affecting the quality of life for people visiting
downtown, it is a problem. "If  you wanted to find cocaine, you could
find it in pretty much under 20 minutes in downtown," Carignan said. 
"It's not a problem in that you can't avoid seeing it, but if you 
want it, it's there."

The Vermont Department of Health reported two cases of people dying
from cocaine in Windham County last year. Over the last three years,
there have been four deaths. This figure does not include people from
Windham County  who were brought to hospitals outside of the county
and died there.

Of the 2,637 drug crimes in Vermont in 2006, cocaine  was the
second-rated drug involved, with 290, or 11  percent of the crimes.
There were also 102 cases involving crack cocaine. Marijuana was
involved in 67  percent.

Carignan said this initiative did not mean the drug problems downtown
have escalated, only the scope of the investigation.

The bars are generally helpful with fighting the problem, he said.
"Having people selling drugs in your  bar can lead to other problems
in the bar which can leads to problems with their liquor license."

While marijuana sales are generally being conducted by young adults
who are supplied by bigger time dealers, cocaine has a slightly
different trend, Carignan said,  requiring a slightly different way of
fighting it.

In the past, a group of users would pool money together and one or
two of them would travel to Hartford, Conn.,  Springfield, Mass., or
New York City to purchase the  drugs, bring them back, divide them up
and go their separate ways.

Now, Carignan said, the dealers come up from these areas, often
recruiting the same users to sell here  when they find there is money
to be made here. Marijuana dealers, on the other hand, either grow 
locally or get it from Canada. Busting one seller might  mean stopping
the grower as well, something that is unlikely to happen with harder

Cocaine and heroine dealers tend to be much more cautious about
getting caught than marijuana dealers, Carignan said. Also, the
volume of the drugs is smaller, making it harder to spot.

More officers are required for these investigations, he  said, in
order to keep themselves safe. "There's  generally more violence
associated with cocaine than marijuana," he said.

Also, while bigger marijuana dealers are hard to catch with
confidential informants because most of the people being arrested
would not be facing a substantial enough  sentence to convince them to
work with the department or are too young, this is the most common
way to handle cocaine.

"More significant penalties make the people we arrest  more likely to
work for us, but the propensity for violence by the higher-ups makes
it less likely,"  Carignan said.

The large amount of money they could make often allows them to
disregard any penalty they might face, Carignan  said. The penalties
are also less severe in Vermont  than in Massachusetts or Connecticut,
he said.

Also, a number of misconceptions about Vermont add to  the

Drug dealers believe that police in rural areas will not care or not
have the resources to stop them,  Carignan said. Initiatives such as
this one help to put  a stop to that belief, he said, but it is still
an  issue.

Also, drug dealers often enjoy the quieter setting of Brattleboro,
where they do not have to worry about  roving street crime squads or
enemy gangs like in the cities. Often gang members will not wear
their colors  or start fights with each other here, Carignan said. 
"They want to keep Vermont a nice, quiet place to  sell."

It is also easier for drug dealers to scam buyers here,  he said.
"Because where else are they going to go?"
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